Thursday, May 12, 2005

Dems Must Choose on CAFTA: Unions or Hispanics

Dick Morris has an interesting column on the hard choice CAFTA is forcing on the Democrats. Link.
The Bush administration is planning to submit CAFTA — the Central America Free Trade Agreement — to the Congress for approval. Democrats and labor unions are indicating their usual opposition, and a fight reminiscent of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) battle over trade with Mexico in the early ’90s seems about to begin.

But the battle comes at a critical time for the political parties, since the Hispanic vote has come dramatically into play in the recent presidential election. While Al Gore beat Bush by 65-35 percent among Hispanics, Kerry won by only 55-45. Hispanics cast 10 million votes in 2004, so the gains Bush made over his 2000 vote share amount to a 2 million vote swing in his favor. Since Bush won by only 3.1 million votes in 2004, the importance of the Latino vote is apparent.

CAFTA is an attempt to bring to the poverty-stricken countries of Central America the benefits of free trade with the colossus of the north. These nations are among the world’s poorest, and free trade would be a tremendous boon to their economies. [...]

With 2 million people who were born in Central America now living in the United States, the Democrats oppose CAFTA at their peril. These voters will not take kindly to nativist sentiment in the party that says it offers them opportunity and compassion.

Hispanic voters are much less concerned about immigration issues than about free-trade questions. Once they are here and have become citizens and voters, the opening of borders is a far-away issue at best. But likely each of these voters has family still living in Central America. The more than $10 billion sent home by Mexicans and Central Americans living here attests to their concern for the folks back home. If the Democratic Party wants to have an all-out battle with the Republicans over compassion for Central America, it would be a serious mistake.

Hispanics now outnumber blacks as the largest ethnic minority. Democrats have the privilege of ignoring the black vote, since it is so firmly in their pocket, but they have to fight for the Hispanic vote. Mexican-Americans may not care about CAFTA, but voters from Central American countries will care very much. They will care enough that it may trump most or all other issues when they next decide their vote.


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